By Peter Small
Ontario’s planning appeal tribunal has rejected a large development with a 36-storey highrise tower at the heart of the Church St. Village.
“The proposed 36-storey height does not ‘fit’ well so close to low-rise Church St.,” ruled a two-member panel of the Ontario Land Tribunal in a decision released June 8, 2021.
ONE Properties applied for amendments to the Toronto’s Official Plan to allow for the development, originally proposed as a 43-storey tower right at Church and Wellesley.
The developer revised and resubmitted its proposal three times, but the city rejected the revisions, citing concerns about height, setbacks, scale and shadows.
ONE Properties appealed to the tribunal, which held an eight-day video hearing in December 2020 for the development at 64-66 Wellesley St. E. and 552-570 Church St.
“This height so close to Church Street itself does not respect and reinforce the general physical character, pattern, scale, massing, setbacks of the area,” ruled Gillian Burton and Doug Colbourn, vice-chairs of the Ontario Land Tribunal (formerly the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal / Ontario Municipal Board).
Ward 13 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents the area, said she is ecstatic about the decision. “This is a big win for our local planning efforts in the Church Wellesley Village and the City of Toronto,” she said in a statement posted on her web site.
She called the victory extremely rare because the “overwhelming majority of all the high-rise condo developments in the village have been approved” by the tribunal’s predecessors.
“My position that the Church Wellesley Village is a special character area has been supported by both city planning and the community,” she said. “This neighbourhood is home to Toronto’s diverse 2SLGBTQ+ community. I have always believed that any new development in the village must conform to the existing character, heritage adjacencies, the low-rise scale of existing buildings and promote independently owned 2SLGBTQ+ businesses and cultural spaces in order to protect its future vitality.”
Connie Langille, chair of the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association, called the ruling “the best news we have had in years.”
She said she is “looking forward to real community engagement from ONE Properties to create a development that actually represents the Village and not the preconceived idea of a developer.”
Working within the planning guidelines will ultimately bring a about a more fitting proposal, Langille added. She said the original work done to pass Official Plan Amendment 183 -- which provides a planning framework for the area -– and by all those who persevered shows the value of community engagement in the process.
Neither ONE Properties nor its lawyer immediately responded to requests for comment.
In its latest development proposal, filed in September 2020, ONE Properties, (formerly WAM Montez C & W Inc.) called for a 36- storey, 111.25-metre high mixed-use tower. The complex would contain 2,015 square metres of retail space and 433 dwelling units. A heritage-designated apartment building at 64 Wellesley St. E. would be largely demolished, with its south and west facades incorporated into the development. The complex would have a five-storey base facing both Wellesley and Church. On Church, it would step back to become a nine-storey mid-rise.
The panel agreed with city planner Leontine Major that the official plan “requires care in siting new infill structures.”
The Official Plan designates "character areas" to guide development. ONE's proposal falls in two character areas, The Church Street Character Area, along Church Street; and the Wellesley Wood Character Area, just west of Church Street.
The panel found that the proposed five-and nine-storey structure within the Church Street Village Character Area does not significantly contravene any Official Plan policies. However, the panel added, the five-storey base is excessive in appearance considering its overall massing, with a width of 50.50 metres along Church St.
The Church St. portion still would be attached to and part of the 36-storey tower, even if it is in a separately designated area under the official plan, the quasi-judicial panel said.
The Church St. Character Area, with its low-rise main street character, allows only “sensitive low scale infill,” the panel noted.
“It is principally the height of the tower that is excessive, in both the existing and planned context. The tower does not ‘fit’ the planned context of this site, so close to Church Street, even though it might be very close in height to the existing structures further west,” the tribunal said.
The tower “would be acceptable to this panel only if shorter,” they wrote.
Further, design guidelines for the Wellesley Wood Character Area to the west of Church St., on which part of the complex would fall, state that developments should create a height transition from Yonge St. to the mid-rise buildings along Church St. “The tower height here does not provide this transition,” the panel said.
The tribunal found, however, that despite city arguments to the contrary, the development’s setbacks and stepbacks were satisfactory. The panel said that there is no incremental shadow impact on Barbara Hall Park from May 21 to July 21, although the city submitted otherwise.
It is now up to ONE Properties to work with the City to create a building that conforms to established planning guidelines and respects the Church Wellesley neighbourhood.
You can read the full decision here and a timeline of the development here.